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Hospitals' prices keep going up

Doctors in sterile garb looking at computers
Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Hospitals are very expensive and they keep getting more expensive, very quickly.

Driving the news: Hospital fees are rising much faster than doctors' fees, and hospitals are driving almost all of the price increases for certain common procedures, according to a new study published in Health Affairs.

Details: The study focused on 4 common procedures, using insurers' claims data to track the real prices patients and insurers paid for those services between 2007 and 2014.

By the numbers: For inpatient care, hospitals' prices rose 42% over that period, compared to 18% for doctors. Hospitals’ fees for outpatient care went up 25%, compared to 6% for doctors.

  • About 80% of the total cost goes to the hospital, whether you're in an inpatient or outpatient setting.
  • As care has gotten more expensive, hospitals have driven the increase. The total cost of a vaginal delivery, for example, went up by roughly 30% over this 7-year period — and hospitals' fees accounted for almost 90% of that increase.

Prices are also highly variable, even within the same city.

  • Now that the federal government is forcing hospitals to post their prices online, Kaiser Health News dug into the data to see what hospitals are charging for the same services.
  • For example: What’s the price for a liter of IV fluid? At one Los Angeles hospital, it's $146. At another L.A. hospital just a few miles away, it's $383. At New York Presbyterian, it's $473.
  • These are hospitals' sticker prices, not the prices you and your insurance plan would actually pay.

The bottom line: For patients, figuring out what a hospital visit will cost is all but impossible. For economists looking at the system as a whole, the cost of hospital care is a little clearer: It's high, and climbing fast.

Go deeper: Think drug costs are bad? Try hospital prices